Photo: Joshua Hanford
There’s a clear theme when it comes to all things GRiZ, and that theme is counterculture with really good rhythm. To his fans, Grant Kwiecinski, better known by his stage name, is the DJ who plays the saxophone live while performing.
That formula has produced a distinct funkalicious sound that’s earned the Detroit native a tight-knit following of fans called Liberators.
His performances include Lollapalooza, Electric Zoo, soon Camp Bisco and more. In 2011, GRiZ dropped his debut album “End of the World Party” for free online.
He did the same again last year with the totally sample-free “Say It Loud.”
The success of his music has also allowed the 25-year-old to put his creative touch on another passion: marijuana.
Last year, and in collaboration with Colorado dispensary Native Roots, the musician created his own strain simply named GRiZ Kush, which won at Denver, Colorado’s Cannabis Cup.
MERRY JANE caught up with GRiZ before his almost instantly sold-out show at Webster Hall in New York to talk about music, his label All Good Records, and the very first time he got high.
MERRY JANE: Hey! How are you, how’s the tour?
GRiZ: [We’re playing] intros for each part of the tour’s stop and each intro’s different, so Friends or fucking Cheers. [But] everything’s so manufactured, everything's so like, you should be experiencing this and we want you to see this, and these colors and like this thing and feel this way, and just like fuck man. If we can create something that feels super candid that’s the best.
MJ: What made you realize that music was what you wanted to do?
Fantasia. When I was kid that's what made me like music. I think like in general I watched Fantasia so much we burnt out a VHS tape. So that was it man. Then kind of like later when I was in college, I saw a few performances at EDC (Electric Daisy Carnival) in Los Angeles and I was like I can do this shit, like c’mon.
MJ: What is it about funk music that you love?
Funk is like drunk jazz, it’s super loud and boisterous, it’s like super charismatic music. It’s fucking, like dance party, fun, happy shit. It doesn’t boast being very difficult of like a music to like dig your teeth into. It’s just kind of like I don’t know it’s super swagadocious, it’s the shit.
MJ: Tell me about how you got the name GRiZ.
That was given to me by a drunk roommate in college, and he was calling me Kwizzy G, Kwizzy Griz. And I had this moniker in college, it was DJ GK. And if you type it out and you look at it from a distance, it looks like “dick,” so stay away from that.
MJ: What is it about the saxophone and why do you think it goes so well with electronic music?
Yo, I don’t even like the saxophone, I love trumpet. But it’s just the fucking instrument that I can play and now I’m learning to fall in love with it. It’s a very love-hate relationship; it’s a very difficult thing to be able to do properly in a live venue because it’s so like loud and you have this microphone attached to it that amplifies noise. And the saxophone sound doesn’t come from one particular point, it comes from the whole instrument. It's a very ambient instrument.
It’s a pain in the ass but I'm falling in love with it, trust me, like I play the shit out of it and I love playing. I fucking love playing.
MJ: Why do you think it goes so well with electronic music?
I don’t know if it does but I think I’ve figured out a way to make it go along with it. The genre crossover is what lends that to make sense. I saw this group called EOTO and they did all these live things with electronic music, and STS9 and all these other groups. And I was like, well, I want to do some live shit when I play because it’s like I feel engaged doing something while I’m playing. And I’m like, I fucking play saxophone so let’s give this shit a shot.
MJ: Did you know about Big Gigantic at the time?
No, but then I did a small tour with them and was like that’s how you really fucking do it.
MJ: I know free music is a big part of your ambition. Why do you think it’s so important or relevant today?
Its relevancy is, I guess, unimportant to culture other than free music helps you not marginalize your fan base. Like you don't have to have a credit card to buy my music or to enjoy it, and I’m also not trying to sell you an emotion -- just fucking have it, just love it. Music is for all of us, I don’t create it just for me. Originally, I create it as an extension of the things I’m feeling or things I like or want to hear. Like I make songs that I fucking rock out to, but I just want people to have it. Like fuck not being able to have music if you want to have that shit on your phone. C’mon, it’s for all of us. If you sell someone an emotion, like I’d like to sell you the experience of like coming to see a show, and if you want to keep this thing that you want to attach your life to, have it.
MJ: So that idea’s basically counterculture then?
For sure, because it’s against something so it literally is like counterculture. It’s against like the plan of making tons of loot off of selling music, but I don’t need to sell music to make money to sustain my lifestyle. I would rather play shows that make money than that. I can’t really sell you music that has tons of samples in it anyway, so just give me the fucking music.
MJ: Speaking of samples, tell about traveling around the nation to record clips for Say It Loud. How did you choose who was going to be on the album?
I didn’t really have a choice, like whoever the fuck will work with us and do some cool shit with us, and we ended up finding some really awesome people that were down like were excited to be involved. [We] kind of like took their genre of music and took it to a completely different realm and it was cool to see their reactions when you show them final product. When I see their genre of music performed in venues and the way they do it, I’m equally blown away.
Did you have any idea what you wanted to do with each clip?
It was like alright cool, here’s a bunch of musicians, what do you want them to play? And I was like I don’t know dude, whatever, let’s just play this kind of an idea and just jam on it and see what sticks.
MJ: What inspired your Liberator movement? I don’t think of many DJs who include charity work in what they do.
These kids really want to be involved so I would rather empower them than dismiss that like desire. And I like getting involved with them and creating interesting ways for them to interact with each other. When we first started it we created a bunch of photo challenges with hilarious names and varying levels of involvement, and it was cool, it was like simple motivations.
One of them was called an “ice breaker challenge,” and you had to buy a bunch of popsicles on a hot summer day and hand out free popsicles to people, shit like that. That shit is not going to change the world but the mentality of that kind of stuff: if you’re having a shit day, it’s hot and someone hands you a popsicle for free, maybe in that next 15 minutes while you’re enjoying that might just change your whole perspective on shit. That’s what I like to do. And you know in the live venue, the venues appreciate kids trying to just look out for each other; it’s like a cool buddy system, an escrow attachment that we appreciate.
MJ: Do you think you’ve become a figurehead for these fans?
I try not to think of myself as anything other than a kid who likes to make music, [just] introduce a bunch of crazy ideas and see what sticks. Like, I like motivating people, I really like being a leader. And I like creating, so that’s my job [and] they do with it whatever they want. You try to just funnel that energy in the most productive way possible.
MJ: How is running your own label, All Good Records? What are the biggest challenges?
Making money by selling free music. The label is mostly right now just an endorsement cosign kind of label. We offer the artist just a complete platform of input that they don’t want to deal with or have never dealt with on their own.
Like, ok cool I’m X person and I want to have my music like, you don’t laterally distribute it and I don’t want to set a release date or go through distribution deals or anything like that. Like we’re set up here to make it super comprehensive as in the favor of the artist’s possible deal to get music distributed to more people than originally would, out to more ears than you would originally be able to than their own social networks.
That can give you the stamp of approval, and like working more and more to be able to grow our distribution outlets. Yeah like I have a song and I want everyone in the world to fucking hear it, so how do I make that happen? Cool, we’ll figure it out. You just gotta know people and have conversations. Like I have all this amazing talented music, you have people who want to hear. Dope shit, like fuck yeah, let’s go.
MJ: I feel like with free music, so much can get lost on platforms like SoundCloud.
No shit, we’re here to make sure that doesn’t happen.
MJ: Do you have many artists coming up to you wanting to be on your label?
Tons of artists, yeah sure, but we want to make sure we’re always putting out stuff that we believe in. It’s more than just music that we fuck with, we meet all the people and we listen and believe in people. Not just like, your music is dope, but like I believe in you, I can see you working. I can see you as a person like succeeding and emanating like a positive thing for us. I’m inspired by you, so that’s the thing.
MJ: Is there anything coming down the pipeline that you’d like to share?
I’m working on a new album right now, and this tour has been kind of like a fun extension of just flexing the touring muscle and just bringing the ultimate joy and testing out new tracks with people.
MJ: Who are your dream collaborators?
I wish Amy Winehouse hadn’t had died, that would be my dream collaboration. Prince would be like a dream collaboration. Nile Rogers. Who would be super duper sick? Justin Timberlake or like Pharrell or some shit. Some super funky hip hoppy shit.
So let’s switch gears and talk about weed. Can you remember the first time you got high?
I remember like the second or third time I got high. The first time I smoked I was in someone’s tree forest or some shit like that. I remember sitting there being like, man, do you feel it? I don’t know man, maybe kinda. Then you start like realizing it. I remember, okay so my mom was picking me up from my homie’s house and -- this was before we could drive -- and my mom’s like I’m here. And I’m like, ok cool I’m just going to finish this bowl of cereal first and I’ll be right out. Word.
Hadn’t even poured the bowl of cereal yet, went down to my homie’s kitchen, grabbed like corn flakes, poured a bowl, threw the milk in that shit. Half an hour, and my mom calls me and she’s like, “What in the world are you doing?” I’m like, “Eating this bowl of cereal still.” And my homie comes down and I’m on the phone with my mom and he’s like, “Dude, your mom has been out there forever. What the fuck are you even doing down here?” And I have a salad bowl and it’s fucking cereal. And he’s like, “Dude, what the fuck?” And I’m like, “Yeah, I’m high for sure.”
MJ: What is the relationship between weed and music for you? Does weed influence your music?
Typically I’m not a 100% of the time a wake and bake kind of guy. I like to have most of my day as being like fairly even keel, coffee, juice, workout kind of a thing. But it’s like putting on a different set of ears after you smoke. I work on a track and then get high and listen back to it and it helps me understand when I was being like, when I was pushing, when I was trying to make things happen too quickly or too loud or too aggressively, like it really fucking takes the edge off completely. Like it helps me realize that if I was just rushing and trying to make this thing too scatterbrained. It helps me focus, which is strange but it works.
MJ: So you moved to Boulder, Colorado. What’s it like living in a town that’s on the forefront of the legalization movement?
Boulder is a super weed-friendly town, and I live across the street from a dispensary in like a normal neighborhood too. But I mean, Boulder, Colorado is a very tolerant place. No one who like consumes marijuana there does it like in an Amsterdam-y kind of way. It’s not like kitsch or like really gaudy, or like custy. Everyone’s really relaxed about it and I think it’s been that way for a long time, where it’s not really big deal, which is really nice.
MJ: That’s how it should be.
Yeah its not a fucking big deal. What are you gonna do? All these stoners are gonna get high and take over the world? No, they’re gonna get high and still just be stoners.
MJ: Eat cereal I guess!
MJ: So the marijuana movement is exploding, and I want to say it’s the younger generation helping to push that. Do you think you and your music sort of help support or normalize that?
When people see like a musician that they really like be super forward and open about weed consumption, it makes it seem a little bit more normal. Especially if you’re like someone successful or doesn’t seem lazy or whatever, you know. That helps the stigma out a little bit.
MJ: What was creating your own marijuana strain like?
Yo that’s like a dream come true! It’s like a Willy Wonka moment like a golden ticket moment. What’s your favorite thing?
MJ: I have tons of favorite things. I guess sushi.
You got to invent like a sushi roll that would be sold to millions of people, with like a sushi chef in front of you, like a pro chef in front of you. Like what flavors do you like, what experience do you like when you’re like eating sushi, and then you get to try all these different kinds of things like from fucking ground up. You get to like (choose) the most perfect thing for you that everyone gets to enjoy, and is about to be super fucking stoked to enjoy.
MJ: That’s like music!
Fuck yeah, it’s like pure creation, it’s like awesome! But at the end of the day, it’s just weed man, it’s like no big deal. It’s like chocolate, it’s just something that I enjoy. Nah, I wouldn’t say it’s like chocolate, it’s way more than that. I felt like a little bit of pressure to make something that people would fuck with but you know you, just do you. And everyone fucking loves it.
MJ: And it won at the Cannabis Cup!
It’s another fucking golden ticket moment right there.
MJ: What is the importance of legalizing marijuana to you?
There’s a lot of things I can think of off the top of my head, but I think the best reason would be to end like the persecution of illegal marijuana use. There’s so many benefits of legalizing and taxing marijuana if used for the right things -- put all the money that people get taxed off of fucking weed and throw it in the schools and get all the people with petty weed crimes out of jail.
MJ: Is there any last thing you wanted to share?
I really want to smoke weed with Snoop Dogg. Let’s make that shit happen.